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July 17, 2009

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Dog steps in to nurse newborn red pandas

TWO red panda cubs that were abandoned by their mother shortly after birth at a north China zoo are now healthy thanks to a surrogate mother dog, zoo workers said yesterday.

The baby red pandas were born at Taiyuan Zoo in Shanxi Province on June 25, said zoo worker Ha Guojiang.

"Their mother was taken in from a nature reserve in Shaanxi Province at the end of April. No one knew she was pregnant. Her plump body and bushy hair disguised her protruding belly until the babies were born," said Ha.

After the panda gave birth in its pen, it abruptly turned its back on the cubs and refused to nurse them, he said. "We hurriedly went about finding a substitute."

Red pandas are raccoon-like mammals that feed on bamboo and are native to the Himalayas. They have reddish brown fur.

The dog that eventually stood out among three canine candidates was owned by a farmer in the suburbs of Taiyuan. The dog had given birth three days before the mother panda.

"The dog is good-natured and has sufficient milk. The panda cubs seem to like it, too," said Ha.

"The mother dog thinks the red pandas are its own babies and refuses to nurse its pup," said Ha, who now feeds the puppy milk and egg yolks to keep it healthy.

At three weeks old, the pandas are more than 20 centimeters long, "twice their birth length," Ha said. "They move around a bit but their eyes are still not open."

The average life expectancy of red pandas is about 13 years. The species is under special protection in China.


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